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GPs should recommend breast cancer screening in women over 70 if they are fit enough, says screening director

GPs should encourage women in their 70s to arrange a screening for breast cancer if they are fit enough and have a reasonable life expectancy, the director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes has told Pulse.

Currently, invitations for breast cancer screening are sent to women aged between 50 and 70 years of age. But in an exclusive interview with Pulse, Professor Julietta Patnick, who runs the NHS's cancer screening programmes, said GPs should encourage women over 70 to attend if they are worried about breast cancer.

She said: ‘If a GP does have a woman in her 70s worried about breast cancer and interested in screening, we would be very pleased if the GP encourages her to give us a call and come for a screening.

‘We won't invite her because the health of older women varies hugely. But if a woman is fit for breast cancer screening and has a reasonably life expectancy ahead of her, it might be appropriate for a GP to recommend screening.'

The NHS breast screening programme in England is starting to extend routine invitations to women aged 71 to 73, which should be completed by 2016, after the results of pilot studies released last year showed the screening sites coped well with the extra work when theinvited age range for breast cancer screening was extended from between the ages of 50 and 70 to between the ages of 47 and 73.

Professor Patnick added that an algorithm to predict breast cancer screening attendance was being developed by researchers from the Biomedical Computing Research Group (BIOCORE) at Coventry University.

Combined with electronic messaging, a tool could be developed to identify women on practice registers that might benefit from a conversation about breast cancer screening.

She said: ‘It would be useful if we could give GPs a flag to say: "This woman – you should have a conversation with her about breast cancer screening." And the GP could use that as a prompt, if the opportunity arose, to have that conversation. It will be offered to all GPs.'

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